Thursday, April 16, 2009

The New Adventures of Josie and the Pussycats

Sorry, I'm not talking about the cartoon, nor the movie adaptation.

Here's the latest news, from CNA, Today and ST.

(Cheers Josie. Image from, taken from ST)

Ms Josie Lau Meng Lee, or Mrs Alan Chin Yew Liang, a vice-president of consumer banking group cards and unsecured loans for DBS Bank, was elected President of the Association for Women's Action and Research (AWARE).

DBS has stated it does not support its staff, given the responsibilities of being a top executive, to take upon such a leadership role.

Previously, DBS was embroiled in public relations nightmare when it adopted Focus on the Family as its charity. The charity is a global organisation, and is fundamentalist Christian. It was met with resistance by the sexual minority community here. See ST and Yawning Bread.

So who exactly is Josie Lau? A brief check with "Josie Lau" in the newspaper archives, reveal a previous career with the tourism board, but maybe there is another person who shares the same name. This "Josie" also loves to eat, according to a May 2, 2004, ST Lifestyle article.

The Straits Times is actually stoking the conspiracy for most of us. It has asked as to whether the newly appointed executive committee members of the women's awareness group, are in any way connected.

At the most, and with the most spine-tingling of political correctness, we can be certain they are all connected by their motivation to serve and address women- and gender-related issues in Singapore.

But the press and blogosphere have picked up on the bread crumbs and suggested that there are other connections, although they can't be formally or publically proven.

Well, for the moment, we know that Angela Thiang (who scolded me in the Straits Times for using the word "sexual minorities". It hurt, Angela, it hurt.) works for Thio Su Mien (see here and here).

We know that the newly appointed AWARE president Josie Lau is married to the doctor of your morality, Dr Alan Chin Yew Liang. He writes to the press regularly, and a majority of his letters are very homophobic (see here and here and here). In my honours thesis, I have identified Alan Chin as one of the few anti-gay taskforce voices who write to the press to sway opinions against sexual minorities in Singapore.

Here is an excerpt of my honours thesis, chapter 4, 'Queer'-ying the Forum:

Most Forum letters are written by persons with strong opinions on homosexuality and rights. Such opinions do not represent a spectrum of views, but rather divided and polarised opposites. There have been writers who champion public morality, as well as those who attempt to put sexual minority recognition and rights on the agenda. It would seem that the Forum has made efforts to balance the debate, for there has been a reverend from both camps pitting their views on July 18, 2003 and in the middle of 2007, as well as persons with the title “Dr”, ostensibly lending an intellectual presence to the debate, such as Dr Gabriel Oon Chong Jin, Dr John Hui Keem Peng, Dr Ang Su Yin, Dr Vincent Chia Wei Meng, Dr Thio Su Mien and Dr Alan Chin Yew Liang representing the morally conservative opponents to the views of Dr Yap Kim Hao, Dr Shirin Kalimuddin, Dr George D. Bishop, Dr Peter Goh Kok Yong, Dr Stuart Koe, Dr Daniel Emlyn-Jones and Dr Tan Chek Wee.

The issue continues to be balanced by the seemingly impartial publishing of letters from both camps, reinforcing the "objectivity" and position of the ST as a platform for any member of the public to air one’s views. The government is portrayed as having the first and last say on the issues of 2003, 2005 and 2007, choosing not to side with either camp. The ST too does not to adopt any moral position on the issue of homosexuality and sexual minority rights. The effort to prevent any single position or view from attaining dominance is a sign of the newspaper’s efforts to, paradoxically, represent diversity in the Singapore population, a move in line with the state’s nation-building agenda and consensus politics.

Most letters which support gay tolerance and rights are from men, while homophobic letters come from a fair mix of men and women. The latter batch contributes to the normative reinforcement of family, society and morality in the public sphere that is the mainstream media. It is observed that most letters written against acceptance and integration of sexual minorities come from persons with religious affiliations, for example Thio Su Mien and her daughter Thio Li-Ann, and Claire and Boaz Nazar, who both penned online articles for Cornerstone Community Church. All of the above are also legally trained, as are Soh Chai Lih, Yvonne Lee (Thio Li-Ann’s colleague at the National University of Singapore Law Faculty), and Angela Thiang Pei Yun (whose senior essay was supervised by Thio Li-Ann). Persons from the legal and medical profession offering homophobic views are seen by Becker (1963) as legitimising the moral creed espoused by moral crusaders. Furthermore, it is observed that in the case of arguing for or against sexual minority acceptance, specific groups of people continue to reappear. News is actually being shaped by polarised vocal minorities, which involve the conservative intellectual elite.

The leveraging on moral rhetoric, the “unnaturalness” of homosexuality and the sanctity of familial norms are common among those who do not endorse homosexuality. There are occasionally letters that make sweeping statements and emotional outbursts against sexual minorities, which are met with strong rebuttals. Seemingly ill-informed, irrational and inflammatory, it is believed these letters were published to bait a bevy of responses – a subtle form of sensationalism engineering the development and sustenance of the issue. The newspaper becomes a prominent platform for civil debates on issues that affect society, a highlight of the notion of a more ‘open society’ as championed by Lee Hsien Loong. For the case of homosexuality, the issue is observed to be debated and sustained by vocal oppositions.

We know that Thio Su Mien and a very eloquent, articulate and learned Thio Li-Ann (who has actually contributed a lot in Parliament, and not given the due credit) are not only connected by blood, but also by their views on sexual minorities.

The names mentioned belong to people who have publicly striven to dehumanise non-heterosexual sexual orientation, for instance reducing homosexuality to pathology or lifestyle/choice.

There are newer questions/suspicions now:
1) Why choose Josie Lau?
2) If so it seems, why is DBS distancing themselves from Josie Lau?
3) Is Josie Lau part of a "team"?
4) Why did the older members walk out? Of course, there's the "pride and complacency" argument on the one hand; on the other hand, there's the "disillusioned and pissed off with the takeover (tactics)" argument.

What does the future hold for us:
1) Should a duplicate organisation be formed? If it is formed, will AWARE be given more freedom to conduct fundamentalist Christian campaigns, under the sweet-coated banner of "women's awareness"?
2) What will happen to AWARE's campaigns and influence on abortion, sexual minorities, sex education and so on? Will it be more active or passive? Will it be tend toward the values of Christian fundamentalism?
3) I believe we need to raise awareness on one fact. Contrary to what Angela Thiang told everyone in the papers on August 10, 2007, I believe that identity matters. Who you are, what you believe in, and what (ideological institutional) affiliations you have, affect your decision-making. If like-minded folks and friends are in the same boat as you, it becomes so conducive for a group-think/consensus, but is this consensus and decision-making fair? I believe they will bear the imprints of the members' beliefs and ideologies. That is why most of us are concerned with the recent takeover.
4) Awareness also have to be raised about NGOs in Singapore. In the case of AWARE, it is clear that the majority of its members are (maybe at least on the peripheries of) the social elite and the educated elite. On top of that, the newly appointed exco members are observed to be the conservative elite. These identities do play a role in the kind of feminist politics AWARE plays/does. There are different kinds of feminist ideologies/positions by the way, for instance, the philosophies may differ based on ethnicity or socio-economic status. The adoption of a feminist philosophy by the new AWARE could be a feminism moulded in the interests of the middle-to-upper ethnic Chinese English-educated fundamentalist Christian women. The feminist idea of "empowerment" becomes shaded in their groupthink.

If you want diversity and if you want to support diversity, you cannot merely represent the interests of diversity.

You need to engage diversity. You need diverse participation. This sustains the pluralist ideas of diversity.

The situation at AWARE shows us the limitations of democracy. The entry of newer members (who might be sympathetic, I cannot say "cahoots", to specific members) does influence the democratic process of voting. Obviously, majority wins.

It reminds me of our PAP government and how it practises democracy. It oscillates between pluaristic democracy and liberal democracy. To maintain "racial harmony", it practises pluralism. To suppress sexual minority rights and inclusion, it plays the card of "majority sentiment".

Nevertheless, the recent events at AWARE throw into the air the ideas of "gender equality" and "women's empowerment". Who is going to gain control of these ideas and champion them? Whose idea of "gender quality" and "women's empowerment" will prevail?

Add: It is not the "progressive" people who suffer (and a victory on the part of the "fundamentalist" faction), the biggest loser is AWARE and women's rights. The publicity from the press and blogosphere will only serve to confirm many a heterosexist masculinist Singaporean male's perception that women are bitchy and catty.

Also read:
Aware's new chief from DBS
Aware of Aware
Update: Josie Lau Is AWARE's New President
Should the old guard of AWARE just accept defeat and bow out gracefully?
Some comments on the Aware thing
AWAREness in our midst
AWARE not aware.
DBS exec is Aware’s head
1st Press Release
TOC Latest: DBS “disappointed” with Josie Lau’s disregard for staff Code of Conduct
DBS & Josie Lau - more than meets the eye?
Double standards of DBS: why staff is allowed to join PAP as MP but not AWARE as Council member?
DBS Goes Pink?
DBS “disappointed” with Josie Lau’s disregard for staff Code of Conduct


Ovidia said...

Thanks for bringing up these points.
Very accurate & very terrifying.

Going to link to you okay? Think more people should see this!

Glass Castle said...

Sam, your list of doctors made me laugh.


Sam Ho said...

thanks.. it's a battle of the authority voices and the opinion leaders.

having a "dr" in front of your name gives you more "street cred".

-ben said...

I wouldn't attribute too much credibility to The Shitty Times.


Aren't They Quick to Change Their Headlines?The comments are gold too!

Speaking of "Doctors," when is the good doctor, Andy Ho, going to give us his $0.02?


Ponder Stibbons said...

More stoking of the conspiracy rumors by the ST: they reported today that Josie Lau is in charge of the DBS unit that chose a charity for DBS to support (hence, she likely had some significant part in the decision to choose FotF).

Sam Ho said...

to be fair, i wonder what the agenda of the ST is. the piecing of objective facts presents a certain angle.

but of course, some of us are happy with this angle.

Moses / JD said...

Can we know, which church does Josie Lau belong to?

I know Claire from Cornerstone Community, wiki that you find (

maybe they are from the same church or a group of closely knitted church group.

Interesting to join the dots together..

Sam Ho said...

i have no idea.

in between various exchanges, there's one barker road methodist church. but i cannot confirm it.

you know, we're doing something bad too. we're acting like vigilantes, mobs, cyber witch-hunters.

in china, this is called a "flesh search".

we're digging for "objective" information, to sway public opinion. i sometimes wonder myself if this is ethical.

Moses / JD said...

I've replied in detail.. can't fit in here.. so i post it on my blog..

thanks Sam

Sam Ho said...

hi, thanks. i don't quite understand the response though.

i was just musing at what i'm doing. not sure what it's worth. is it adding value or devaluing the whole thing. just reflecting.

like the ren2 rou4 phenomena in china, i feel that's unethical.

the wee shu min cyber-lynching, that's nasty.

i'm wondering what we're doing are in any way related to the abovementioned.

Alicia Wong said...

To answer the church questions and further link the dots of the christian fundamentalism:

Aside from new Aware president Josie Lau and her husband Alan Chin, the others who are believed to be attending the Church of Our Saviour at margaret Drive are, Ms Charlotte Wong, Ms Irene Yee, Ms Jenica Chua, Ms Maureen Ong and Ms Sally Ang.

'Church of our Saviour' is the church that brought in and houses 'Choices', the christian organisation that runs anti-gay counselling programmes for gay people. 'Choices' is the Singapore version of 'Exodus International', an evangelical anti-gay counselling organisation based in the States.

It is similar to 'Focus on the Family', a self-declared pro-family christian organisation that actively slams gay people in the talks they give to schools in Singapore under the guise of pro-family education and sex education. It also originated from the States.

The local groups in Singapore will often have changed their names. They will have chosen names that are seemingly non-aligned, secular and would readily be accepted by local society eg - Choices, Exodus, Focus on the Family. But behind the seemingly innocent names, unless you know about their history and links, they are militant christian fundamentalists.

American conservative right wing christian fundamentalists. Singaporean conservative right wing christian fundamentalists. They are here. And they are not silent or passive or "loving". They are here with an agenda, to destroy people like us. Now I sound crazy huh? The takeover of Aware sounds crazy to you doesn't it?

Sam Ho said...

thanks alicia.

those are very helpful facts. don't mind if i share them at the upcoming sinqsa meet-up.

still, we cannot be 100% sure if there is truly an "agenda", even with links and facts stated.

if only they are honest and stand up to say, "this is true/false".

and even if they say this is true or false, we cannot be sure what they are thinking.

i hope they can be more upfront, open and work to clarifying each and every of their positions, etc.

if people at the level of civil society can define and clarify their positions and objectives, be open and upfront, maybe it can set an example for our government.

we just need to develop the habit (and culture) of being honest and open.